Did you know that June 8 was World Oceans Day? According to worldoceansday.org, this day was dedicated to “Preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean.”
I refer to the ocean as my love potion. (I think that I first heard Dr. Dyer coin this phrase and it has stuck with me ever since!)
The ocean has always been a source of healing to me. It draws me in like a magnet: I live near the ocean, I vacation on the ocean, I need the ocean.
And I’m not the only one.
As a matter of fact, we all need the ocean. Life on earth would not exist without it, yet we as humans give it such little regard that we are all but destroying it at an alarming rate. In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t realize how badly I was contributing to the problem until recently.
Did you know that approximately 16 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean each year, according to Science Magazine?
That’s right, plastic. Something we have all grown up depending on. Something that is as ubiquitous to our everyday lives as watching television or brushing our teeth. Something we use in so many ways each day, without even thinking about it. And something that, while making our lives easier or more comfortable, has sickened our planet — in particular, our oceans, and the plants and animals that call it home.
The ocean covers over 70% of our earth’s surface. Its vastness is almost too great to comprehend. The majority of marine life, nearly 90%, has yet to be discovered or explored. And yet, garage patches in the earth’s oceans are growing at an astonishing rate.
These garbage patches collect in what are called the five gyres; five distinct areas in the earth’s oceans. According to National Geographic, a gyre is a large circular area of stationary, calm water. Picture a gyre as basically a swirling vortex created by the underlying currents of the water. While there are many smaller gyres across the globe, the five major ones reside in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Because of the currents underneath the surface of the water, the calm water on top, and diminished winds, garbage and debris are drawn into the gyres and can stay there for years, even decades, building up over time.
The largest garbage patch is in the North Pacific Ocean located between Hawaii and California. It is often called the Pacific trash vortex or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It was first discovered in 1997 by oceanographer Charles Moore when he was sailing from Hawaii to back to California. He noted that “In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” This patch is now said to be three times larger than France!.
And this problem? It is only getting worse.
One reason for this is that people underestimate the severity of the situation, especially if they live inland away from the coast. Studies have shown, however, that inland plastics tend to wind up in our oceans anyway, making their way into rivers and streams and eventually being carried to the seas.
Another reason is that people put too much faith in recycling. Recycling, while a fantastic concept, often has severe limitations in practice that many of us are unaware of. The cost of recycling plastic is expensive and, without a profitable market in which to sell the recycled plastic, most recycling companies don’t even recycle it. Instead, they sell it to developing nations who in turn, don’t recycle the plastic either.
Many people also claim that they themselves don’t see any floating plastic and therefore conclude that it must not really be as big of a problem as reported. This is also a flawed premise. Aside from the vast masses of plastic that collect at the water’s surface, wind, waves, and other movement convert larger plastic material into microplastics which can be smaller than a grain of rice.
Good news, right? Wrong.
Plastic never “goes away.” It stays in landfills or oceans indefinitely. Just because the material changes into smaller particles doesn’t make it any less harmful to life on earth. Why? Because microplastics are either consumed by marine life or settle into ecosystems below, often destroying or severely impacting the marine life that makes these ecosystems their home. These smaller plastic particles are often called the smog of the ocean, if that gives you an idea of how unhealthy they are!
But enough of the problem. Let’s focus on the solution. As Mother Teresa said when she was asked to march in opposition to the war in Vietnam: “I will never take part in an anti-war rally but when you decide to have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
I have adopted that philosophy in my own life as well, bringing my attention and focus to what I want rather than what I don’t want. Remember, what you focus on expands, whether you know it or not; whether you want it to or not.
In this case, I want clean oceans, so let’s turn our attention there!
1. Reduce Your Use
The #1 thing we can do is to reduce the amount of plastic we use or buy. This was the most significant change I made once I learned of the devastating impact that single-use plastics have on our oceans. I now shop at stores that offer a paper bag option and use reusable bags whenever I can. Instead of relying on plastic sandwich bags, I reach for tupperware, especially when it comes to my children’s school lunches. This helps to teach them the importance of re-use as well!
I am also more cognisant of the amount of plastic used in packaging, especially toy packaging. I can think of very few toys that truly need to be protected as though they were a Tiffany diamond! Not to mention, so many of these packages are nearly impossible to open — it’s just such a needless waste of plastic! These days, I try to choose products with little to no packaging.
Things like drink boxes with plastic straws destined for the garbage or snacks packaged individually in plastic wrappers have just about been removed from our consumption (and, as an added bonus, we’re often eating far more healthily as a result!).
Lastly, my family and I now all have reusable water bottles for both hot and cold beverages. Now, even our Starbucks run is garbage free!
2. Get involved!
Partnering with organizations dedicated to preserving and protecting the oceans is something else I am now committed to — and you can join me! I’ll even help you get started — check out Coastal Living's 11 Amazing Organizations Dedicated to Saving Our Oceans.
3. Focus on Progress Not Perfection
I have adopted a “progress not perfection” mindset so I can feel good about the changes I have made and will continue to make as I focus steadfastly on protecting one of the most valuable resources on earth. I am committed to doing all I can in order to continue to bathe in the beauty of the oceans, my love potion, for years to come. Maybe it seems daunting to you, to make so many changes at once. Trust me, I get it! But remember: you don’t have to be perfect, or 100% consistent, 100% of the time.
You just need to take the first step.